DEAR BENNY: I have repeatedly requested a copy of the board meeting minutes for the past three years. I live out of the building mostly, but it is my residence. Management and the board claim they do not have to email or hard copy me the minutes. They only have to provide them at the building and I have to come to the building and make a copy. They claim they are not obligated to send any information to anybody who is not living in the building. If I ask them each and every month for a copy they will put a hard copy in my box and when I am in town I can retrieve them. I say the condo law does not differentiate ownership. What is the answer? – Barbara
DEAR BARBARA: That’s a difficult question to answer. True, there is – or should be – no differentiation between owner-occupants and owner-investors – but in reality there is.
And even if you are not an investor but just keep the unit available for your periodic visits, you still should be treated equally with all other owners. But here’s the dilemma. If the board arranges to send you the minutes, they would have to do that for all owners who do not reside in the building. And this can become costly; there would be an administrative fee for preparing the envelopes, and the postage costs as well.
Are you willing to pay management a small amount so you can get the minutes? That may be one answer. Do you have a friendly neighbor who can send you those documents? And does the association have a website? More and more associations have an online presence, where everything can be found; this would include not only the board minutes, but the legal documents, rules and regulations, and important announcement. I know of one association that periodically changes the access code to the garage and sends an announcement by email to all owners.
Personally, I think the board or the property manager should honor your requests, but I do not believe they have the legal obligation to do so. They must make all such minutes available to all owners; they don’t have to mail them to you.
However, we are talking about board minutes. It is a different matter if the board is considering rule changes or proposed amendments to the bylaws. In those situations, the board has the obligation to make sure all owners get the appropriate information on a timely basis.
DEAR BENNY: I own a house and am 79 years old. I would like to sell it to my son, but live in the house until I die or have to move to a nursing home. A friend told me about a life estate. What exactly is that? – Steffie
DEAR STEFFIE: A life estate gives you the right to live in the property even though you are no longer the owner. It is a way to avoid probate since on your death, you will not be the sole owner of the house.
A deed conveying the property to your son will be recorded, but will include a statement that you – as grantor – are reserving a life estate. I strongly recommend that a side agreement be entered into between you and your son, spelling out the various responsibilities. For example, traditionally a life tenant pays the mortgage, property taxes and insurance, and makes minor repairs. Whether you would also be obligated to make major repairs is a matter to be spelled out in the agreement. You can, of course, have your son make some –or all – of the necessary payments.
Please talk to a real estate attorney before signing anything, even with your son. There are problems with life estates; for example, your son may not be able to sell or even get a mortgage without your consent. And if you become incompetent, even if he has your power of attorney (which he should have in any event) he may have to go to court to get a guardian and conservator appointed. Your attorney can assist on all this.
If there is no current mortgage, you may even want to take back financing, to give you a little extra cash.
Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C. and in Maryland. He is not providing specific legal or financial advice to any reader. He wants readers to e-mail him, but cannot guarantee a personal response. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.